The online social-networking service Facebook works for finding old classmates or arranging happy hours, so why not use it to help recruit the next generation of spies? That's what's happening now in cyberspace, as the country's intelligence community turns to such sites to attract a wider range of résumés.
The CIA now has its own Facebook page, as does the hush-hush National Security Agency, which vacuums up the world's communications for analysis. Both invite Facebook members to register and read information about employment opportunities. It's part of a larger, multiyear hiring push to boost the size of the U.S. intelligence community.
But should the country's secret spy agency be encouraging potential hires to publicize their interest in the intelligence field? Apparently, it's not a concern. In the first place, since the groups are not directly moderated, it is impossible to control who registers as a member. Some may enroll on the site out of curiosity. And, of course, none of those who show interest are yet officers in the clandestine service.
Even so, once they are on the CIA payroll, employees face no prohibition against keeping social-networking accounts or pages. "While agency officers are not, as a rule, prohibited from maintaining a page on Facebook, they are made aware of precautions to take if they choose to do so," says CIA spokesman George Little.
But the Facebook posting shouldn't necessarily cause a run on tinfoil hats. The pages aren't designed to surreptitiously gather information about those who visit the site, as fearful skeptics allege. In reality, says the CIA, they are flashy recruiting posters, "used strictly for informational purposes."
"From time to time over the past few years, we have used Facebook to share information on employment opportunities with the agency," says Little. He says it is part of a much broader campaign "leveraging traditional and new advertising media."
The NSA, for its part, sees the bleak tech-sector landscape as an opportunity to attract good workers and provide jobs. The Facebook site, according to Don Weber, deputy chief in the NSA's recruitment office, is just another venue where applicants can learn more about the agency, "as well as discuss those opportunities with fellow job seekers and NSA recruiters."
The NSA site is four months old and already has nearly 1,000 members, along with a listing of current job openings, from cryptological and language analysts to information system security designers.
Nearly 800 Facebook members have joined the CIA group, which is free and does not require approval from a moderator. "Finding the right people to do the job is of the utmost importance," reads the CIA page. "You could be one of those people."
It's all a far cry from the historical spy-recruiting process, which traditionally focused on Ivy League campuses or the ranks of the U.S. military.
Indeed, staffing the country's clandestine service has been a major focus in the past few years. President Bush ordered the CIA to increase its collection, analysis, and technological workforce by 50 percent—an ambitious goal that the CIA says has nearly been reached.
The specifics of how much the agency spends on staffing and how many people it employs are classified. But in his farewell address to the agency at its Virginia headquarters last month, outgoing director Michael Hayden told his employees that increasing human resources had been one of his greatest achievements as chief of the spy service. In the past few years, he said, the CIA has hired "thousands of talented new officers, chosen from hundreds of thousands of skilled Americans seeking to be part of our mission." He told reporters recently that the agency has received between 130,000 and 150,000 job applications since the hiring push began.
Moreover, the face of the CIA and the broader intelligence community is changing. Minorities accounted for almost a third of new CIA hires last year, a record.